Parenting as a spiritual practice invites us to grow up and wake up ourselves in order for us to invite and help our children to do the same. In order for us to discover, know and honour who our children really are, we need to first understand that our children don’t arrive as blank slates. They are born with gifts, talents, preferences, natural tendencies, gender differences and a soul. As the parent/caregiver we need to release and let go of who we think our children should be and nurture what they are bringing forward to the world. To do this we need to listen and observe carefully who they already are and nurture that nature.
On Children – Khalil Gibran
Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might
that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable.
A child’s authentic sense of self develops when we nurture their nature. Nature is what our children bring forward with them and nurture is what the people who are attuned and attached to our children do when they read and respond to their signals. Beyond listening, we have an invitation to become attentive, through observing and reflecting on (and with) our children.
I’ve recently started to keep a parenting journal, to notice the milestones and reflect on situations, to capture the magic, to explore my own growing edges and to be more attentive to this journey. Through this simple practice, I notice more. For example, I recently said to Noah that my friend was sending him her love and he stopped really intently, looked me directly in the eyes and said, “thank you for saying that to me Mummy,” like it had completely warmed his heart and made his day.
One of the things I feel conscious of is not wanting to impose or project my own fears and imperfections on my children so that I don’t shut down their core nature. My biggest theme from my own self-development is of never being good enough. I want to make sure that I don’t impose this on my children so I have been using affirmations with Noah.
If I say to Noah, “you are…” or “Noah is…” I could bet you that he would finish off my sentence with “MAGIC!” For me, what I hear is “I am magic (enough)” or “I am good enough.” This has been a conscious effort on my part to encourage him not to carry patterns that limit his beliefs and it also allows me to make sure that I am not putting expectations on my children and measuring their development in a way that might be detrimental to their core nature. I try to encourage both Kevin and I to also speak kindly about ourselves and our bodies so that we can support our children to develop this sense of self-love and appreciate the wonder of being in their bodies without subconsciously carrying their parent’s self-criticisms.
Parenting is an art form in itself; we are not born knowing how to parent our children because it is an evolving journey, a co-created dance, an invitation and a response to the human that arrives.
Parenting as a spiritual practice is a journey with my whole self – body, mind, soul and spirit, – in service to my children. I am birthing new aspects of myself and right now, I am having to be ok with being in labour and the demands that this asks of me. As Miriam Mason Martineau so eloquently says:
“…in parenting we can be awakened out of complacency at a moment’s notice and therefore we must learn to dance in the rain rather than waiting for the storm to pass.”
Life is full of ebb and flow and it’s important that as parents we realise that part of these parenting challenges supports both ourselves and our children as we grow together. This is a long-term commitment and we have to hold this intention of long-term listening to who our children are and what they are ready for.
Parenting as a spiritual practice is not about knowing it all, rather, it is about our willingness to inquire, to understand more, to respond to the best of our ability, and to source from a place of love.
“Our children don’t need perfect parents who know everything; what they really need is just for us to care enough to do whatever it takes and for us to keep growing up, for them.” Miriam Mason Martineau
We don’t need to make the whole world perfect so our children never cry. As humans we need the suffering and the obstacles in order to build this self-sense. Children feel respected when we inquire with genuine curiosity, where we ask them questions and listen deeply to their insights, their feelings, their concerns.
We had been planning on meeting up with a friend earlier this week when Noah asked me if the friend we were meeting would play with him or if this friend would have other friends there. I began to ask him questions about this, checking in on his feelings and his concerns. I feel grateful for the friendship I have with his friend’s mum, where I was able to also share Noah’s concerns of being left out with her and we could then support both children together. I have found it incredibly helpful to lean in and share some of my most challenging parenting moments with this friend. It can be quite scary sharing our parenting experiences with other people but it is so important that we find people we can trust with this.
Listening in to where my children are developmentally makes it easier for me to then accompany my boys in the world. I find it really supportive to be in conversation with people about my children and in doing so, it gives me more of a sense of their developmental stage and what they might need from me to guide them.
Last week when meeting the same friend, Noah grabbed his special teddy from his hands. When speaking about this later on, in an attempt to understand and integrate the experience, both boys were deeply reflective about what had happened. What we discovered was that Noah had grabbed this teddy to get his friends attention because his friend was playing with other people and Noah had been feeling left out and was finding these emotions difficult to be with.
In order for our children to grow and unfold, we need to teach them to name their emotions in order to process and integrate their experiences. We can also do this in a way that we integrate a developmental view to get a real feel for where they are at in their journey and then accompany them in the best way we can.
When we walk in their shoes we can more fully appreciate how they are feeling and source compassion, patience and support. When we next met up with these friends, I took along a special teddy for Noah to play with too and the dynamics between the two children were beautiful. In listening deeply and inquiring genuinely, I was able to support Noah with his emotions and therefore shift the challenging behaviour and both children could then delight in each other’s playfulness.
During a practice session, we were invited to take on our child’s perspective during a recent interaction, wondering would we have reacted differently knowing how this felt through our child’s eyes? I found myself tearful when Kevin was sharing his example. Earlier that morning we had an incident with Noah where Kevin’s reaction had upset me and I ended up upstairs with Noah who was crying. When Kevin went back to this incident and viewed it from Noah’s eyes, he described it as though he was Noah and how Daddy had been carrying River down the stairs and that Daddy always carried Noah down too but this time he hadn’t and the emotions that were experienced as a result. It was so emotional hearing this from our child’s perspective.
One of the most meaningful gifts that we can give our children is to acknowledge our own mistakes and apologise for when we get it wrong. This is so powerful because it teaches our children that it’s ok to make a mistake, that we as the parents/caregivers are learning alongside them and that it’s ok to get it wrong, to admit this and everything will still be ok.
“Make it a frequent practice to get behind the child’s eyes of your child which means to imagine that you are looking at the world through your child’s eyes, and to feel the world through your child’s heart, to hear the world through your child’s ears and to experience the world through your child’s body and understand the world through your child’s mind. Miriam Mason Martineau
Getting behind the eyes of our children can be a truly magical experience too. Our coffee machine is on an eco-setting and if it’s not in use, it turns itself off. Every time this happens, it makes a noise and some water comes out. When this happens, Noah’s mouth goes wide open, his eyes light up and he says to me, “Mummy, the fairies are making a coffee!” And he then throws his head back laughing. I delight in watching this unfold and play along.
When we become attentive to how children view the world, we practice being able to watch, witness and wonder. Observing and letting our children simply be is such an incredible and delightfully simple practice. It can be amazing to follow our child’s invitation and take the time to really listen to what children say.
In the course, Miriam describes how this is like a gardener making sure that they take the time to sit back and enjoy watching the flowers grow. Watch, witness and wonder is a practice that provides the gift of seeing and delighting in what we have been nourishing.
Earlier this week we took Noah to visit Santa at a local garden centre. He decided beforehand that he wanted to take Santa a present, firstly he thought he would take him a toy to take home but later changed his mind and bought him a chocolate snowman. He didn’t think that Santa would get many gifts from the children. Hearing this kindness developing in Noah is so precious. I often catch glimpses of this caring and kind nature around other, younger children.
I’ve actually noticed a big developmental shift for Noah in his need for connecting with other children. He loves to engage, create, explore and discover and I absolutely delight in hearing his creativity and imagination alongside other children. I love the stories they can dream up together, experiencing this unfiltered magic of childhood.
Not interrupting this creative or self-regulated play allows us to learn more about who our children are. In this moment, what we can offer is being a loving, open and present witness to their unfolding. One of my best friends and I were recently delighting in hearing our two children playing with each other; we were so reluctant to go near them so that we wouldn’t interrupt the engagement, creativity and connection they had created themselves. These are precious moments to witness and moments where I can really notice just how much Noah has grown.
Part of parenting as a spiritual practice is about gathering knowledge and insight that will support our children, which means we have to discern and sift through what feels right for us. But just like parenting, learning is an art form, we are not born knowing these things. I’ve been researching a lot more about teaching children about feelings and emotions recently and trying out these new approaches with Noah.
I was so delighted this week when Noah became aware of his own present state and somewhat unexpectedly, asked me if he could punch my hands to move some energy (before this became a big storm).
It is so important to help children to transit from one state to another. Often when children are in a funk then water, movement or music will support them. We have a sign up saying ‘shake it off’ which is a great daily reminder that we have a choice. We can teach our children that emotions and states are passing and that we can makes choices around these. We can also model this to them.
Kevin and I have both said to each other over the past week to do Noah’s ‘shake it off’ routine which I mentioned in a previous blog. It’s been entertaining and supportive to model this practice ourselves; we have to do some punches before some stomping, then shake our bum, do a twirl and finish with five press ups. Certainly by the time I had done this wee routine, my energy had been transformed and I was giggling at Kevin telling me to do it. Any time Kevin or I suggest it to one another, Noah is completely entertained by this playfulness and witnessing his parents shaking it off.
Noah is yearning for fun right now, so I am looking for opportunities to make life more fun for him, including when River needs fed when we are moving from one place to another and I often find myself creating games inside the car that will engage/entertain Noah whilst I feed River in the driver’s seat.
Noah has been testing me when he’s wanting my attention recently too. In those moments, where possible, I try to listen, respond and then bring my presence to him for a period of time. This is usually enough for him to then allow me to finish whatever I have been doing or to invite him to support me to finish things with me. He recently shouted on me when I was upstairs. He shouted, “Mummy, come and see what I’ve done.” I had been doing some housework and he was now clearly trying to get my attention. He had covered River’s face with a blanket. I took the blanket off, comforted River and connected with Noah before expressing the dangers of doing that. But I also noticed he was really just trying to get my attention. It doesn’t condone the behaviour, but I could see where it arose from and therefore could meet his needs.
As a breastfeeding mother who is on a daily nightshift, when morning arrives I am utterly exhausted, completely sleep deprived and finding functioning challenging. So how in those moments can I offer presence, joy and connection? Well, for now, I can offer it quietly. This week when Kevin has been out on early shifts and Noah has been super emotion to wake up without him, I’ve offered my understanding for his upset, I’ve offered him cuddles in bed and quiet snuggly stories, I’ve let him hold onto my body for extra comfort and when I have the chance to put River down for a nap, Noah and I have this special little game that we pay together on the floor.
Taking the time, slowing down, putting things aside and simply holding the intention of being present is so important. Presence is one of the most precious gifts we can offer our children. We can make the choice and take the time to be present during pockets of our day.
As part of my parenting practice I remind myself to listen deeply, to practice responding from a place of love (and to apologise when I don’t), to have a yes let’s approach and more recently challenging myself with ‘why not’ if I find myself wanting to say no. I offer my interest and try to source the energy to be alert and relaxed, to let my children fall into my calm and for them to know that I want to play and adventure with them.
I often leave my phone in another room (or lose it for most of the day) but actually doing these little things to consciously connect can allow our presence to be with our children without distraction, which can really support soul-to-soul connection.
I also have become curious to what lies beneath the words, softening my gaze and seeing what arises in that moment. My sister was here last week and she really sweetly reflected on some of the parenting choices I had made during that day. She shared one example which stuck with me and I really valued her sharing it because it highlighted for me, this deep listening quality in action. We were up at Callanish Stones as I was drumming on the full moon; Noah and I love to drum together. After we had been drumming, Noah began playing this game with his power animal and inviting my sister to have her power animal there too.
In the game Noah spoke about his power animal being sad as he was missing a friend. Reading between his words, I was curious and asked Noah if there was any part of him that was feeling this sadness that his fox was experiencing. He was able to tell me, through this game, that he was feeling sad and missing his Daddy (who was away for the weekend). I heard this invitation for connection, for dropping into a deeper place and allowing and acknowledging Noah’s sadness in that moment.
Our job is to watch, witness and wonder at our children, to ask, listen, care and engage with our children with an open heart. As I gaze into River’s eyes at 12 weeks old, I delight in the unfolding mystery of this tiny human being, in his evolving whole, asking myself, ‘who are you?’ Asking myself this question allows me to keep curious to his unfolding without limiting his being or projecting my own fears, hopes or expectations on to him.
Holding the question ‘who are you?’ with my children is a beautiful inquiry and especially right now, as I hold the same question for myself during this period of transition and rediscovering who I am aside from all my roles and responsibilities.
As I hold this question with River, I use simple practices like pouring in love for his very being through my touch and the physical sensation of him being loved. Baby massage is incredible for this. I also get Noah to help me wash him in the bath and speak to Noah about the importance of River feeling we are pouring love into his body. It is such a blessing to do this together.
Parenting as a spiritual practice teaches me about respecting my children as human beings, no matter their size or their age. This means that I am bringing consciousness to the intention of communication being heard, it means that I practice checking-in before I wash my children or before handling my children or handing them over to someone and I let my children know what is happening, for example asking permission before baby massage, letting River know before I change his nappy or telling Noah before I put his jacket on.
It is so important that we respect our children and respect their bodies so that we empower them. It is also really important that they know they are heard and listened to, so that when they say no, we listen and respect them. Through us listening to our children, they develop boundaries and they learn that their own boundaries should be respected and can use this for their own protection. So when Noah has enough tickling and someone isn’t listening to him, I often find myself speaking out for him to say, “listen to him!”
Our children integrate things at 10-15 times slower than the adult brain. Everything is slowed down and therefore their sensory experience is also experienced at a different pace than we experience it, which is often why when we slow ourselves down and offer our children our calm, things flow with a lot more ease.
As all of this goes on, we are co-creating with our children a sense of self. Therefore, we must also be aware of how we speak about our child both to our child and in front of them. I’ve held back recently when people have asked me how Noah is with River’s arrival for that reason. I often speak about him having ‘big feels’ rather than highlighting his sometimes challenging behaviour but emphasising with Noah that he feels something rather than is something (i.e. I am feeling angry rather than I am angry) and trying to bring more consciousness to our use of language as we integrate all of his experiences, behaviours and emotions.
I am continuing to learn these core practices and anchors that help me to discover, to know and to support who my children are and who they are becoming, including ways to bring more presence and love to my interactions on a daily basis.
Behind their eyes there is an abundance of magic awaiting for us; there is love and compassion, curiosity and adventure. Getting behind the eyes of our children, walking in their shoes – imagining and understanding through their minds, feelings through their hearts, hearing through their words and through their ears, experiencing through and with their body – embodying these practices of getting behind their eyes invites us to drop everything we have learned – all our own subjective views – and suddenly become alive to the endless possibility that is birthed with each child.
In parenting as a spiritual practice we nurture their nature (and our own) and in doing so, we allow ourselves to dance in the rain rather than waiting for the storm to pass, and as we do, we collect all these pearls of parenthood.